This custom entered the church from Judaism. The practice, which dates from the early Middle Ages, is common among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Episcopalians, and many Lutherans; it was also adopted by some Methodists and Presbyterians in the 1990s. Lent in the Western Churches was originally a period of forty days of fasting and penitence, readying the Christian soul for the great feast on the ensuing Easter Sunday. This is held as a period of sober reflection, self-examination, and spiritual redirection.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the 40th weekday before Easter. Of the Sundays in Lent the fifth is Passion Sunday and the last is Palm Sunday. The week preceding Easter is Holy Week. Lent ends at midnight Holy Saturday. See Shrove Tuesday. From the 5th to 9th cent. strict fasting was required; only one meal was allowed per day, and meat and fish (and sometimes eggs and dairy) were forbidden. During and since the 9th cent. fasting restrictions were gradually loosened. By the 20th cent. meat was allowed, except on Fridays.